Review: Satan accused Job of obeying God because it paid him to do so. Remove the profit motive, Satan argued, and Job's piety would turn to blasphemy. God allowed Satan to test his theory and Job by taking away his wealth, family and health — everything but his life. Along came Job's three friends to console him. But their consolation soon turned into condemnation as they tried to get Job to confess what surely had to be heinous sins to warrant such severe suffering. Job's friends erred because they didn't have all the facts, and what facts they did have were grossly misinterpreted because of mistaken theological ideas about God and suffering. Consequently, God rebuked them for misrepresenting Him, not to mention unjustly maligning Job.
Job's three friends were not the only ones whose theology was contradicted by calamitous events. Job himself was having a severe trial of his faith in and beliefs about God. Before disaster struck, Job was probably confident that righteousness — at least his righteousness — had its own reward from God in this lifetime. But now his theological system of temporal rewards and punishments, at least, was severely challenged. Job didn't have God all figured out after all. In the dialogues between Job and his friends, we read of an afflicted man simultaneously fighting a desperate battle on two fronts. On the personal front, Job was defending his character and reputation against the. insinuations and accusations of his "friends." On the theological front, Job questioned God Himself for visiting disaster upon him for no apparent reason. In his speeches, Job alternated between these two fronts, now addressing rebuttals to his friends, now addressing complaints to God. Pleads Innocent. On the personal front, Job defended his integrity in two ways. First, he refuted his friends' theological arguments by asserting that, contrary to their neat theological formulas, some wicked people "spend their days in prosperity, and in peace they go down to Sheol" (21:13). Second, Job steadfastly maintained his innocence. Job didn't say he had never sinned. He wasn't that self-righteous! But he insisted that he had done nothing to warrant such devastation and suffering. The climax of Job's defense of his integrity occurs in chapters 29-31. After reminiscing about the "good ol' days," and complaining about his present suffering and humiliation, Job launched into a remarkable description of how scrupulously he had lived his adult life. In summary, Job said: "Look at me then. Look at me now. But you're still looking at an innocent man!" Some have wondered if Job was boasting or perhaps exaggerating. But remember, God had highly praised Job's righteousness to Satan ("Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?") and Satan could not gainsay God's words! Be sure to read chapter 31. It has been said that "if we want a summary of moral duties from the Old Testament, it might be better found in Job's soliloquy... than in the Ten Commandments." Outrage and Despair. So much for Job's defense of his integrity. Meanwhile, back on the theological front, things weren't going at all well. Why, why, why was he subjected to such suffering? Job could think of no cause or provocation. He had no explanation that gave meaning or purpose to his suffering. If he had been privy to the bargain struck between God and Satan in heaven, he might have steeled himself to pass the test with flying colors and fewer complaints. But Job was completely unaware of any purpose behind his affliction that should inspire him to rise to the occasion. So instead of maintaining a stiff upper lip, Job let loose with a torrent of woe and lament. In chapter 6, for example, Job wished he were dead rather than suffer such pain and alienation from God and friends. In chapters 9 and 10 Job expressed his feeling of helplessness at being a victim of divine injustice. "If I lift myself up, thou dost hunt me like a lion," he said of God. "Why didst thou bring me forth from the womb? Would that I had died before any eye had seen me" (10:16, 18). Later on Job yearned for a face-to-face confrontation with God so he could plead his case before the Supreme Judge of the Universe (chapter 23). These "woe-is-me" words of Job amount to more than just a sob story. Threaded through them is a debate with his friends and a complaint against God about how mere men can be just before, God (9:2; 25:4). He wonders if God has forgotten how human He has created humans. He complains that God has overreacted to his few-and-far-between foibles. "Must you be so harsh with frail men, and demand an accounting from them? How can you demand purity in one born impure? You have set mankind so brief a span of life.... So give him a little rest, won't you? Turn away your angry gaze and let him have a few moments of relief before he dies" (14:3-6, The Living Bible). And so forth. It is important to emphasize that although Job questioned God Himself almost to the point of accusation, he still believed in God! His emotions and outlook swung wildly between despair and hope, between bitterness and trust. Troubled But Tenacious. For instance, in chapter 19, Job, out of the depths of alienation and vexation, pleads: "Pity me, pity me, you that are my friends; for the hand of God has touched me. Why do you pursue me as God pursues, me? Have you not had your teeth in me long enough?" (Verses 21-22, The New English Bible.) Then, two verses later, comes a fleeting moment of confidence and hope: "But in my heart I know that my vindicator lives and that he will rise last to speak in court" (verse 25). This begins the famous section immortalized in Handel's oratorio The Messiah that some believe refers to the resurrection. Unfortunately, the Hebrew is obscure here and the correct translation is difficult to arrive at. But despite this problem, Job's confidence and belief in God comes through loud and clear. This endurance, this determination, this steadfastness of Job is an attribute the apostle James later held up for all Christians to emulate. (See James 5:7-11. The translation "patience" of Job in the King James Version may convey a wrong connotation. A general survey of the book of Job shows that he may not always have been "patient." But he was tenacious. He held fast to his belief in God in spite of all circumstances.) Job's tenacity also extended to his belief in his integrity. Unable to penetrate his defenses and unaware of the true purpose of Job's suffering, his three friends finally gave up trying to wring a confession out of him. "So these three men ceased to answer Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes" (32:1). Now youth had its say. A fourth companion, Elihu, heretofore not mentioned, had remained silent in deference to his elders (32:4). "And when Elihu saw that there was no answer in the mouth of these three men, he became angry" (verse 5) and jumped into the, fray. Elihu rehashed some of the same arguments and insinuations of the other men. But he seems to have avoided the pitfall of thinking he had God all figured out. He made an allowance for a margin of mystery in the way God works. At Last — God Speaks. Up until now, God was a distant deity, a being defined and explained by theological dogma, speculation and argument. Now God personally intervened in the debate. And not in a still small voice either, but a voice of power and authority arising from a whirlwind or tempest (38:1). At last Job had gotten the confrontation he so earnestly wanted. But instead of putting God on the witness stand, Job found himself being grilled with a series of about 40 questions extending through the next four chapters." Even more amazing, God's interrogation completely ignored Job's suffering. He didn't mention the conversation with Satan. He didn't bring up any of Job's complaints or questions. Instead, God gave Job a nature lecture. He quizzed him on the wonders and mysteries of His creation. Halfway through, God let Job get a word in edgewise. You might expect Job to complain about this line of questioning. You might expect him to reply, "What has meteorology and biology got to do with my problems?" Or "That's fine. Now about my questions.... " But, no, Job merely said: "Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer thee? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further" (40:4-5). What happened? Why the about-face in thinking and attitude? Theologians, philosophers, and even psychologists have speculated on Job's frame of mind for millennia. What happened was that God was no more just an argument or a belief but an awesome reality! Speculation and dogma had been replaced by the real Being! Job was face to face with God as He is, not as Job believed or imagined Him to be. It was a mind-expanding, attitude-altering experience. Job was undergoing a conversion in outlook and belief. God worked this conversion by cutting Job down to size. His ego was deflated. For all his works of righteousness, Job was made to realize more profoundly that he was not equal in any way to God. He realized that neither man nor man's standards, no matter how perfect and right they may seem, can be used to measure God or His works. Man is very, very small and insignificant in the larger scheme of things. Job also came to realize how little he knew about God's physical creation. "Do you know... " God asked Job over and over. And each time, the answer was "No" (as it is today in spite of the quantum leaps in our knowledge). God drove home the point again and again that Job was pretty dumb about the, physical world around him. And if Job knew so little about the physical realm, how much less did he know about the spiritual realm? God's interrogation diverted Job's attention from his problems. Instead of giving Job His sympathy vote so he could further wallow in self-pity, God focused Job's attention on God's greatness, His mighty works, His infinitely deep and broad knowledge, His immeasurable power. The net effect was that Job began to see God as he had never seen Him before. "... I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.... I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees thee; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes" (42:3-6). There were many things about God that he had never seen before, that he had been unable to grasp through theological debate and dogma. As Roger Bacon wrote: "There are two modes of knowing, through argument and experience." Job was knowing, experiencing God apart from abstract arguments. And further, Job was seeing God separate from his own needs and his own deeds. That made all the difference. Job, like many religious people today, like you and me, had often related to God in terms of his daily needs and blessings. God was defined and thought of as the One from whom all necessities, fringe benefits and bonuses flowed. They had flowed to him with great abundance. That was great, so God was great. But then they stopped flowing. That wasn't so great and now God wasn't so great. Perhaps, as Satan had charged, Job's piety was partially based on his great material prosperity. In any event, Job now saw God apart from His blessings, apart from his own physical needs. God Separate From Deeds. Job also came to see God apart from his righteous deeds. Job, like many religious people, like you and me, had related to God too much in terms of temporal rewards for obedience and punishments for sin. Of course, God wants us to act and think righteously! But too often people turn righteousness into a racket. They seek to impress God, others and themselves with their good works. Or they operate under a tacit stipulation that their obedience to God will be commensurate with His good favor. According to the measure God blesses them, they will hew to the strait and narrow. But if God doesn't deliver the goods, then He becomes unfair, inconsiderate, unsympathetic. And just for that, people will wander from the strait and narrow until the temporal profit incentive is restored. Or they may dispense with God altogether as they see that it is possible to prosper without God in this life. And the punishment of the wicked that God is certain to mete out? Well, that's too distant, too removed from this life to take into consideration until one is old or on his deathbed. When the blessings stopped, Job questioned God's goodness and concern. He wondered what value there was in obeying God if the righteous suffered while the wicked prospered. But he clung to his sense of morality, and did not forsake the righteous life. Unfortunately, a lot of other people who were once "religious" can't say the same. Can you? Is there a profit incentive in your religious life? What Will God Deliver? After Job came to see God and the universe a little more from his Creator's point of view, and a little less from his own, God restored his fortune. He blessed him with ten more children, and gave him twice as much wealth as he had before. Does this mean, then, that the lesson of Job is: If you hang in there long enough, God will eventually bless you physically? No way! The contract — the covenant — Christians make with God is not predicated on prosperity clauses, or guarantees of physical prosperity and good health in this lifetime. Such blessings are optional clauses added or deleted at God's discretion without prior consultation. As it turns out, God is more often than not very generous with physical blessings for His begotten children. But that is not the important thing to God. What counts with Him are factors important to the next life — love, mercy, obedience, etc. These essential spiritual traits are produced and matured in the trials, adversities, challenges and sufferings of life. "We rejoice in our sufferings," wrote Paul, "knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us" (Rom. 5:3-5). And James exhorted Christians to "Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" (James 1:2-4). The principal guarantee we have with God is that those who will fulfill their part of the contract in this life will receive the gift of eternal life in the next. It's a deferred payment plan, if you will. Yes, Job was blessed with twice as much as he had had before. But many other godly people in biblical times did without the amenities or even necessities of life. As the apostle Paul recounted in Hebrews 11:35-38, they endured deprivation, pain, torture and death. "And all these," Paul concludes, "though well attested by their faith, did not receive what was promised" (verse 39). The real goods — predicated upon the promised resurrection which is our great hope — have yet to be delivered to Job or anyone else, except Christ. Warning — God at Work. The book of Job is not for casual readers. It doesn't have easy answers, or tidy solutions. In fact, Job never got a direct answer from God at their showdown as to why suffering, vicissitudes and injustices are endemic to physical life. Consequently, many readers of the book have come away crying "foul!" After 37 chapters of buildup, they think they have been left hanging with no resolution to the problems and questions raised. But Job was satisfied. He didn't get the answers to his questions, but He was visited by the One who has the answers. And for him that was enough. Through his personal confrontation with God, Job knew that God had not abandoned or betrayed him. And he came to realize that as an animal can't comprehend what a human does — so great is the gap in their intelligence levels — so man can't understand the divine, for God's level of thinking and existing is far above our ability to grasp. Therefore be wary of criticizing the way God works. "Woe to him who strives with his Maker, an earthen vessel with the potter! Does the clay say to him who fashions it, 'What are you making?' or 'Your work has no handles'? ... Thus says the Lord... 'Will you question me about my children, or command me concerning the work of my hands?'" (Isa. 45:9-11.) Today we are the beneficiaries of more revelation about God's will and ways than was available to Job. We know more about the great overall purpose God is working in our lives — to make us His sons in His Kingdom. (Man's transcendent destiny is explained in our booklet Why Were You Born?. But even with this additional knowledge of God's long-term plan, we can't always know what His short-term goals are. We can't always understand how and why God — does what He does, or why He allows circumstances to happen to us individually. Why are some unemployed? Why are some children born with congenital deformities or mentally retarded? Why have some lost mates in middle age or children in their youth? Why are some dying prematurely with cancer or other incurable diseases? Why are some deaf, blind, crippled? Why fatal car accidents? Why miscarriages? Why disease? Why oppression? Why drug addiction? Why hunger and poverty? Strength From Weakness. Why you? Why your loved ones? Why anyone? God only knows! And right now, He is giving us the same silent treatment He gave Job. But He has given enough revelation for us to take the unknown, the unexplained in stride and in faith. "The secret things belong to the Lord our God; but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law" (Deut. 29:29).. "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood," wrote the apostle Paul (I Cor. 13:12), another individual who had more than his share of suffering. At one point in his life, a "thorn in the flesh" became so unbearable that three times he pleaded for God to provide surcease. "But he said to me," the apostle wrote, "'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'" Therefore Paul proclaimed: "I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong" (II Cor. 12:9-10). God Works for Good. Paul drew upon Christ's strength and also kept in mind the overall long-term goal — the resurrection to the Kingdom of God. That goal gave meaning and purpose to his whole life, enabling him to face with courage and confidence any adversity — even death itself! It enabled him to write elsewhere: "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.... for the creation Was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God" (Rom. 8:18, 20, 21). When we know from the book of Job and the rest of the Bible "the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful" (James 5:11), we can take the unknown in faith and hope. We can rise to the challenge God places before us, making the best of an imperfect existence, winning "strength out of weakness" (Heb. 11:34). We can say with Paul that "we know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose" (Rom. 8:28).